There are many symptoms of lupus. Some are subtle and some are life threatening and extremely serious. Some are noticeable to others, some only you can see and sense. Be it sensitivity to sunlight or severe joint pain and fatigue, each symptom tells a little bit about the nature of your experience with lupus and how best to treat the disease. Early symptoms of SLE are usually vague, nonspecific and easily confused with other pathological and functional disorders. Symptoms may be transient or prolonged and individual symptoms often appear independently of the others. Moreover, a patient may have severe symptoms with few abnormal laboratory test results and vice versa. A range of clinical symptoms can be seen in patients with lupus over the lifetime of the disease.
Each person with lupus has slightly different symptoms that can range from mild to severe and may come and go over time.
Most Common Lupus Symptoms
- Prolonged or extreme fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in weight
- Skin rashes including the Malar Rash (Butterfly shaped rash across the cheeks and nose)
- Hair loss
- Photosensitivity (sun or light sensitivity)
- Chest pain
- Painful, achy or swollen joints
- Muscle pain
- Ulcers (usually in the mouth or nose)
More Serious Lupus Symptoms
Some of the more serious symptoms of lupus involve the major organ systems.
- Kidneys: Inflammation of the kidneys (nephritis) can impair their ability to get rid of waste products and other toxins from the body effectively. There is usually no pain associated with kidney involvement. Most often, the only indication of kidney disease is an abnormal urine or blood test; however, some patients may notice dark urine and swelling around their eyes, legs, ankles, or fingers. Because the kidneys are so important to overall health, lupus affecting the kidneys generally requires intensive drug treatment to prevent permanent damage.
- Lungs: Some people with lupus develop pleuritis, an inflammation of the lining of the chest cavity that causes chest pain, particularly with breathing. Patients with lupus also may get pneumonia.
- Central nervous system: In some patients, lupus affects the brain or central nervous system. This can cause headaches, dizziness, depression, memory disturbances, vision problems, seizures, stroke, or changes in behavior.
- Blood vessels: Blood vessels may become inflamed (vasculitis), affecting the way blood circulates through the body. The inflammation may be mild and may not require treatment or may be severe and require immediate attention. People with lupus are also at increased risk for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
- Blood: People with lupus may develop anemia, leukopenia (a decreased number of white blood cells), or thrombocytopenia (a decrease in the number of platelets in the blood, which assist in clotting). People with lupus who have a type of autoantibody called antiphospholipid antibodies have an increased risk of blood clots.
- Heart: In some people with lupus, inflammation can occur in the heart itself (myocarditis and endocarditis) or the membrane that surrounds it (pericarditis), causing chest pain or other symptoms. Endocarditis can damage the heart valves, causing the valve surface to thicken and develop growths, which can cause heart murmurs. However, this usually doesn’t affect the valves’ function.
Sources: Lupus Alliance of America, National Institute of Health